Explore the playful side of invention and the inventive side of play in Invention at Play, our interactive website.
Selected collections on the history of technology,
invention, and innovation in the National Museum of American
History Archives Center
Howard Head's drawing for his tennis racket with an enlarged
"sweet spot." Smithsonian Institution photo.
The National Museum of American History Archives Center
has vast collections relating to technology, invention,
and innovation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The Lemelson Center is collaborating with the Archives
Center to make finding aids to these collections available
All Archives Center collections are described in brief
Institution Research Information System),
an on-line catalog shared by Smithsonian archival units,
Institution Libraries, and some specialized research projects.
is a powerful tool which permits searches by name, subject,
A written finding aid is available for most collections
in the Archives
Center. Selected finding aids are available on-line. Finding
consist of several parts: a biography of an individual
(personal papers) or
a history (organization or corporate records); a scope
and content note
describing the content of the collection; and a container
list of the
contents of a collection by box and folder.
Using the Archives Center collections:
The Archives Center has moved to temporary quarters in the National Museum of American History and the off-site location in Suitland, Maryland, during the renovation of the Museum's west wing. Reference services have changed significantly in order to accommodate access to the collections off-site and in the Museum. For details on conducting research during this period, visit the Archives Center's website.
Appointments are required. To schedule an appointment and for further information, please call 202-633-3270 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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You may reach the Archives Center at:
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index by subject »
The accessible snowboard was developed by Matt Capozzi and Nathan Connolly, students at Hampshire College, Amherst, Mass., under the direction of Colin Twitchell of the Lemelson Assistive Technology Development Center. They developed several prototypes, ranging from a PVC chair attached to a snowboard to a design incorporating a suspension system, moveable seat, and a lever that raised the height of the seat to allow entry on a standard chair lift.
1 cu. ft. : 5 boxes containing Matthew Capozzi and Nathan Connolly's invention notebook, drawings, photographs, patent documents, correspondence, videotapes showing test runs of the snowboard, and an audiotape of a news broadcast about the snowboard.
Referring to himself as “an agricultural missionary,” Richard Adlard became the first exchange student in agriculture at Lingnan University in China. After returning from China, he worked for the Oregon State Department of Agriculture and attended Oregon State University, earning a degree in crop science His writings document his work on drip system irrigation as well as his views on rural China and the Phillipines just prior to World War II.
2 cu. ft. containing correspondence, extensive agricultural notes, photographs, maps and a scrapbook from Adlard’s time as a student at Lingnan University; articles written by Adlard on Philippine coconut production, Chinese village life, the farmers of China, soybeans as food, and pre-war China; Adlard’s later articles for various publications and his correspondence with Julia Needham of the Troy-Bilt Owner News about Adlard’s work with drip system irrigation and design as well as his use of Chinese farming practices in his own home garden; brief biographical information on Adlard, gardening and agricultural pamphlets; and two copies of the Garden Way Inc. publication, Gardening Beyond the Plow.
Adler, a professional engineer and inventor, resided in Baltimore, Md., all his life. At age 14, he patented an electric automotive brake. After attending Johns Hopkins University and serving briefly in the Army, he joined the Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad, developing safety devices. In 1928 he invented the first sound-activated (by auto horn) traffic signal. Adler earned over 60 U.S. patents (10 of which he donated to the U.S. government), was a licensed pilot, and a member of numerous professional engineering societies.
6 cu. ft.: 14 document boxes and 1 flat oversize box containing biographical information on Adler and his career; newspaper clippings, photographs, and other memorabilia detailing his activities; published writings; patent applications and related correspondence; and royalty receipts from his inventions.
The Aladdin Company started in 1907 as a manufacturer of kerosene lamps. In 1912, company founder Victor S. Johnson invented and patented an improved gas mantle for the lamps. The lamps caught on and were very successful. Experience making insulated cooking dishes for the U.S. Army in World War I led Johnson to the development of the first thermos bottle in 1919. In 1950 the company produced its first illustrated school lunchboxes. They were very popular and Aladdin continually expanded its product line. Over time it made improvements with new materials, in addition to changing the subjects of its lunchboxes according to popular taste. The company went out of business in 2002.
50 cu. ft. containing papers documenting the business history of Aladdin Industries, especially their production of illustrated lunchboxes; scrapbooks; the voluminous files of Victor S. Johnson, Jr. (president of the company); photographs; business records; company newsletters; laboratory notes; advertising; trade literature; postcards; and original artwork for the illustrated lunchboxes.
Collection documents the business records of the Alexander Binder Company, as well as the inventions and creations of Clinton B. Alexander.
6 cu. ft.: 6 boxes containing business receipts and forms, pamphlets, drawings, trade literature, notes, patents, correspondence, and material samples.
The Albany Billiard Ball Company is possibly the earliest successful plastics firm and certainly one of the oldest plastics companies in the world. The business was started in 1868 in Albany, New York, and is presently the only major manufacturer of billiard balls in the United States (in 1977, the company was renamed the Albany-Hyatt Billiard Ball Co.). John Wesley Hyatt was one of the company's founders and the American inventor of celluloid. Celluloid was a substitute for ivory, long the prime substance in billiard ball manufacture. The Hyatt "composition" ball, with a celluloid base, dominated the sport until the 1960s.
8.6 cu. ft.: 5 document boxes and 40 volumes containing legal documents, 1871-1966; bank books; patents, patent certificates, and patent assignments; memoranda and articles of association; union contracts; balance sheets; invoices, and profit and loss accounts; journals, cashbooks; ledgers, and time books; photographs; and correspondence to and from the company, 1881-1973.
The Anglo-American Telegraph Company was organized in 1865 as a joint British-American venture to lay an Atlantic telegraph cable. After three previous failed attempts by other telegraph companies, Anglo-American Telegraph Company successfully laid and operated the first trans-Atlantic cable in 1866. The company operated cables until 1912, when they were leased to Western Union.
14 cu. ft.: 51 volumes containing records relating to the organization of the company; corporate records, including two volumes of the company's acts, charters, contracts and agreements, 1862-1883; minutes of board meetings relating to various topics, including agreements between the company and other telegraph companies such as Western Union Telegraph concerning sales of property, details of transactions or purchases undertaken by the company; and financial records consisting of nine volumes of journals showing monthly records of receipts, 1866-1912, nineteen volumes of ledgers of detailed financial information, 1866-1912; and nine volumes of cash books of the financial transactions of the company, 1904-early 1941.
Emile Bachelet (1863-1946) was an inventor of electro-magnetic therapeutic devices for the treatment of rheumatism. In the 1890s he conceived the idea of magnetic levitation and worked for twenty years on its application to a train. A model was exhibited in London in 1914 and it received worldwide notice and some financial support. In the early 1900s, Bachelet moved to New York City and formed three companies, Bachelet General Magnet Co., Inc., Bachelet Magnetic Wave Company, and Bachelet Medical Apparatus Company to continue his invention work.
Approx. .66 cu. ft.: biographical materials, correspondence, clippings, patents, photographs, newspaper clippings, and a scrapbook.
German-born Ralph H. Baer is a pioneer of early videogame technology, and an ordnance specialist, inventor, and engineer. The Ralph Baer Papers include autobiographical materials and an extended oral history interview. The Papers also include materials about military small arms created by Baer during his World War II service. The largest portion of the collection documents Baer's work on video games.
Approx. 3 cu. ft.: 10 boxes, 1 oversize folder, including notes, papers, photographs, oversize diagrams and engineering blueprints, 1 book, 1/2" VHS video (2), CD-ROMs (4), 7 audio cassettes
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